Mexican students attacked
It was six in the morning on Sunday, 6 February, when 2,500 police officers surrounded the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) campus. Behind the barricaded entrances, 632 students slept, oblivious to the police activity. Just minutes later, the police moved in and arrested the students, ending 291 days of protest by the students.
UNAM has a long history of rebellion. In October 1968, hundreds of students were massacred as they led a pro-democracy movement. The killings were a turning point in Mexican politics.
On 20 April last year, most of the UNAM's 270,000 students decided to strike in protest against the state's plans to increase yearly fees from a symbolic equivalent of about two US cents to about $120, in a country where the minimum monthly wage is $80.
But the causes of the conflict were not only economic. The students wanted a say in academic decisions and the running of the public universities throughout the country. They also demanded a renewed commitment by the state to funding all sectors of public education. The Mexican government, however, chose repression as the best response to this search for educational democracy.
President Ernesto Zedillo had always said he would not use the security forces to retake the UNAM campus. However it was no surprise when he decided to renege on this promise and sent the police in to crush the students' rebellion. He decided to move because he feared the growing dissidence in the heart of his capital city. In order to remain in control, authoritarian governments need to indulge in occasional displays of force. Sunday's actions should be viewed in this light.
But what really worried Zedillo were the growing links being made by the students with other protest movements in Mexico, like the Zapatistas in the Southern state of Chiapas. Zedillo has consistently avoidded tackling the massive economic and social problems in Mexico caused by growing inequality and hardship.
Reacting to the police move against the students, the Indigenous Revolutionary Clandestine Committee of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) called on Mexican people to unite against state terrorism: ``Today, it is not only about the future of the UNAM and the student movement. It is about the future of a country which is in dispute between those who would direct it at the point of a bayonet, and those who wish to see it free, democratic and just.''
The main reason why Zedillo's PRI party, with the assent of the opposition party, the PRD, agreed to send police into the campus was out of fear that the students' strike could interfere with the presidential elections that will take place on 2 July 2000.
Students' relatives and political activists have called for the release of those arrested. Jesus Lopez, the father of one of those arrested said: ``The kids being held are not only worthy of our support but also of our admiration. Resistance will be organised from elsewhere.''
It seems, however, that the government repression has only begun. Police hold arrest warrants for several hundred more students, many of them so-called `moderates' who were in favour of opening the university campus again.
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